John Barton, People of the Book? The Authority of the Bible in Christianity, 2nd edn (London: SPCK, 1993) has very little time for the likes of me! (Well... not quite true, as his tone is often gracious, and he sometimes even compliments 'fundamentalists' for their piety.) He is very concerned to undermine modern biblicism, and in this second edition also to bring out a constructive alternative. There are good things to plunder is this book - it is very erudite, eloquent and insightful - but overall I think he's wrong. Most of the time he falls for the fallacy of the excluded middle, but he is also fond of stating things as if they were arguments in favour of his position, when in fact they are not...
The arrival of Jesus, and of the new work God accomplished through him, draws its significance from the knowledge of God that already existed in Israel, and would be meaningless without it. (33)
Anyone would think, from the number of times Barton makes this claim in the early chapters of the work, Barton that he imagined it is a special insight of his own. But the ‘fundamentalists’ he criticises would say exactly the same thing. It is possible that there are some Dispensationalists, somewhere in
Bizarrely, Barton frequently couples it with a very strong anti-supersecessionist assertion. On page 33, he continues, Jesus’ God is the God of Israel, and that means not only of ancient
Now, whether or not there is any continuing significance to Judaism and precisely what that significance is is hardly an uncontroversial point among those Barton labels ‘fundamentalists’ (of course it has historical, personal, sociological and cultural significance - the question is of its theological status). It would seem to me, however, that a strong case can be made that modern Judaism is essentially a creation of anti-Christian rabbis, and bears very little resemblance to Barton’s ‘God of Israel’. If we want to get all ethnic about it, then the first followers of Jesus (later, ‘Christians’) were all Jews, and many theologians have convincingly argued that ‘the church’ is true
As regards Barton’s central thesis, the falsity of a ‘ fundamentalism that comes closest to adopting in Christianity theory of scripture like the majority Islamic view of the Qur'an – supernaturally inspired in origin, inerrant in content, oracular in function’ (1), I shall doubtless have more to say in future posts.
Note: for a taster on the typology of Jesus as Israel, see this post. And especially note who Leithart is dependent on: the Anglican theologian Austin Farrer, John Barton's old tutor and hero! Perhaps this is too obscure to be irony, but...